Cycling in the Netherlands

Amsterdam Travel Blog

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This morning was my last morning with Lydia for a week or so, as she has to head back to work while I have a conference starting Wednesday. We got up early to get her to the train station, while the streets were still being scrubbed clean from the previous night's revelry. We said our farewells, I nearly made Lydia miss her train as she jumped through closing doors after one last kiss, and I went back to bed for a decent sleep in.

Apart from lazy naps and copious amounts of good food, today was spent joining the hundreds of thousands of Amsterdamers on bike.

I joined Mike's Bike tour to ride out of the city and into the country side. The weather was crummy, raining on and off all day, but it was a pleasure to ride through the streets of Amsterdam, over the canal bridges, along the bike paths and into the country side.

We saw one of the remaining Dutch windmills, once ubiquitous as they reclaimed land from the water using an Archimedes screw, now relatively rare (many were ripped up for fuel during the long hard winter at the close of WWII) and simply show-pieces (with the real work being done by sophisticated pumps). The windmills are more than just a national monument and tourist attraction, they are an insight into the Dutch mentality. The Dutch are often called liberal, and indeed there are many liberals in the country, but it is not a defining characteristic like it is with the Nordic countries.

Prostitution and marijuana may be legal, but they aren't national pastimes. Only 5% of business in the Red Light District is from Dutch (and only 5% of the women working there are Dutch), and only 6% of Dutch use marijuana (although this is much larger among the Moroccans and Surinamese, who avoid alcohol). Instead the laws are a practical Dutch solution.

Rather than being liberal, the Dutch have a "polder mentality". Those who live in the polder, the reclaimed land, have to rely on each other. They might not like each other, but unless they all work together the defences fail and they all will be together under the water. This has taught the Dutch that social problems need social solutions, and to tolerate your neighbour even if you don't like them. Unlike many other countries, the Netherlands also remembers that during WWII it was not only the Nazi facists that committed the holocaust – plenty of homegrown facists actively took part in a purge of Jews, communists, homosexuals and liberals.

The backlash in horror from this deviation from polder mentality bred the liberal laws of the Netherlands that are supported by even the conservatives in the country as the right of people to chose for themselves, even if they don't approve of the choices they make.

Behind the windmill was Rembrandt Hoeve, so called because the farmhouse appeared in the background of several sketches Rembrandt did of windmills. The farm is a cheese and clog factory, and we got to watch both being made. The clogs are surprisingly quick to make on a simple lathe. Now only four factories make wooden clogs in the Netherlands, and most of those go to tourists. The only people who wear them now tend to be farmers, because it is practical to have a shoe that floats and dries quickly when working in a polder, and one that saves your foot if you are stomped on by a cow.

Until recently construction workers wore them for the same reason, but living in town they were subject to more mocking and switched to steel-capped boots.

On the ride back we stopped in at an Irish pub for a beer. I had a quick couple of Duvel's to refresh myself, quite a nice beer and surprisingly strong (strong enough that the Irish bartender said to me when I ordered my second "you do know this is not an ordinary beer, right?"). I got good language advice from our guide, who only spoke English until he was thirty, but is now fluent in five languages (which is good to hear from someone who was monolingual beforehand). He said that he learned Danish when living in Copenhagen with his Danish girlfriend by borrowing Danish pornographic comic books from the Copenhagen library (which had a very large collection). She made him read one to him every night, and corrected his Danish in the nicest possible way. He said the experience was very rewarding.

Adrian_Liston says:
Posted on: Sep 09, 2008
keeweeset says:
Hehe...that's so funny about the comic books. =)
Posted on: Sep 08, 2008
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Normally I couldn't care less (or even notice) what people wear, but I now have a new rule. European men shouldn't try to imitate American fashion. The rapper look in America is a connection to gang and gun culture, linked to prison culture where pants at half mast is a solicitation of illicit sex. It just doesn't work on European men when the jeans are figure hugging and designer cut, on a guy who looks friendly and sophisticated. 
Adrian_Liston says:
Posted on: Sep 07, 2008
tvillingmarit says:
Thanks Adrian for spelling this out. :) ;) ;D
Posted on: Sep 07, 2008
photo by: pearcetoyou